Time for govt to pull up its socks about school infrastructure

Time for govt to pull up its socks about school infrastructure
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Winter’s here but there’s no heating; 3,040 schools electrified out of over a lakh

Srinagar: Twelve-year-old Abid is standing near the glassless window of his classroom, watching people in the street outside and rubbing his hands to make himself warm. Suddenly the school bell rings, letting students know that it is 10 am and time for their first class. Abid, along with a friend, makes his way to his broken wooden bench. Rays of light from holes in the tin roof illuminate the classroom with the glitter of colliding dust particles that catch the attention of Abid and his friend during class.
“We even get showers in our classroom when it rains,” says Abid, speaking through shivers.
Though Jammu and Kashmir’s performance has been ranked second when it comes to education, there are still schools across the state with weak infrastructure and no heating facility even in this harsh winter, leaving their young charges to suffer. The Government Middle School (GMS) in Khanyar may be a true illustration of how badly maintained State schools in the Valley are.
The school runs from the first floor of a dilapidated, rented building that belongs to the Wakf Board. The staircase leading to the first floor is tilted and shakes whenever anyone uses it. There is no provision of electricity in the school.
Lacking basic facilities, the school has only four classrooms for infrastructure, all with broken windowpanes and no doors.
Teachers are forced to hold two classes in one room simultaneously to accommodate the 60 students enrolled in the institution.
The floors and ceilings are full of holes that the school management has covered with thin boards. During the rainy season, water drips through the ceiling of a few classrooms, adding to the problems of the teachers and the students, forcing them to merge several classes into one room.
The Khanayar GMS is not the only school lacking basic amenities – there are thousands of schools like this across Kashmir. Even though it is mandatory to have basic facilities in schools under the Right to Education Act, but governments school are still lacking electricity, computers, playgrounds, toilets etc.
One can only wonder how children could get an effective education without these basics, especially considering that most children here come from poor families that could not afford better educational facilities at their homes.
The Jammu & Kashmir High Court in February this year had expressed dissatisfaction over the government’s status report on various facilities made available in schools. The court had asked the government to make up the shortfalls within four weeks, after the status report revealed that many schools in Kashmir had no electricity facilities, fire extinguishers and LED bulbs.
In the recent past, a survey conducted by the School Education department to check on schools with an electricity supply revealed a grim picture.
The official figures received from the Chief Education Officers (CEOs) also made a shocking revelation in this regard.
According to the figures, out of 1,423 schools in Kupwara district, only 87 are electrified while in Baramulla district, the tally is 681 out of 1,458 schools.
The figures belie government claims of taking all preventive measures for safeguarding government schools attacked by arsonists in the summer of 2016.
Without electricity, the use of computers, a must in this era, is out of the question in these schools. When the authorities talk about digitization, they must keep in mind that government schools lack this basic facility.
Officials in the School Education department, however, attributed the lack of basic facilities to haphazard building construction, particularly in rural districts.
Meanwhile, as per figures from the Director of School Education (DSEK), 3,040 schools have been electrified out of 1,10,629. There are many more government schools in Kashmir division without any toilet facility. When asked about the details that could explain the situation, officials in the DSEK refused to provide them.
As per a report by the Ministry of Human Resources (MHRD), 1,720 government elementary schools are run by single teachers. The figures have come to the fore after two years of the much-hyped rationalization of government schools started by the present dispensation in 2015.
The rationalization was started after 124 government schools were found with no students on their rolls. However, these schools were functioning for years in one- or two-room accommodations.
“The government should rationalize subject-wise and school-wise teacher posts for elementary and secondary schools,” reads the MHRD roadmap, a document suggesting interventions to overcome challenges and problems faced by the education department.
Meanwhile, the MHRD roadmap has also found lacunae in learning enhancement and remedial education for students enrolled in government institutions.
“Only classes from 5th to 8th are covered under remedial classes. J&K has not yet taken learning enhancement of activities of class 9th and 10th for the year 2017-18,” reads the MHRD document.
The MHRD has suggested increasing remedial teaching from class 3rd to 10th and ensuring adequate training to teachers.
The roadmap has also suggested that the education department should go for school-based recruitment in order to address the deficiency of teachers in schools set up in rural areas.
“There is no clear process specified for the identification of students, need analysis and post-assessment of students,” the document reads.
As per the MHRD document, the state has made only 132 out of 352 schools functional over the past years.
“For the rest of 220 schools approved in 2015-16, process has been initiated but is yet to be made functional,” the document reads.
Under the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA), computer-aided learning has been implemented in only 5.62 percent of upper primary schools, and information and communication technology (ICT) – a component approved under the Rashtriya Madhyamik Shiksha Abhiyan– has been implemented in only 229 (36.5 percent) schools out of 627 schools approved in 2016-17.
“So far, no digital content has been developed with respect to teaching learning materials,” the document reads.
Speaking with Kashmir Reader, a government school teacher raised the question of how government schools conduct their affairs and how it could be better, “The government has never taken serious steps in building up the education system, be it for the welfare of students or teachers. The government has failed to take care of our demands, expectations and even our basic needs.
“Starting from the school itself, our schools lack basic infrastructure. Schools don’t even have washrooms, and government tells teachers to increase the number of students. How could it be possible when the government can’t give them basic facilities?”
The angered teacher continued, “In introducing extracurricular activities, government schools have totally failed because they are not equipped with the space where such things can take place. And how would you improve the education system and get good ranks when the roots of the system are weak?
“Text books either come late or don’t come at all for a year. The passed-out students of the class are told to get books for the new ones so that they can pursue their studies without waste of time.”
Another concern is about teachers, who, the teacher said, have time and again been disrespected by the government.
“Getting teachers involved in clerical jobs is not what they deserve,” the teacher said. “Paying them meagre wages won’t do justice to the efforts they are putting in to educate children from poor families, where the student cannot get guidance from home.
“A Rehbar-e-Taleem teacher with a master’s degree or even more gets Rs 3,000 as pay. Apart from teaching, he has to do other jobs to earn a living; it is impossible that he make do with his teaching profession salary alone. If the government had thought about his welfare, he wouldn’t have done so.
“Our expectations are at least to have respect, decent wages and a proper place for school. We are more educated than the ones who teach at private institutions. When they can create the best of a student who gets guidance at home as well, we can also do the same, provided the government thinks for our welfare.”
Asked for her views on possible solutions, the GMS Khanyar principal was of the opinion that “things can be improved by making use of funds. Every year, lots of funds lapse because they aren’t utilised. There are centrally sponsored schemes like the SSA where crores of funds are available, but the worst-hit schools are those under SSA. The funds are not utilised at the proper place. The situation can also be improved by bettering the condition of teachers so that they can deliver well.”
Noted academician Prof A G Madhosh speaking with Kashmir Reader said, “No doubt this year government schools in rural areas have shown some improvement, but if we look at the over-all scenario in government schools or in the education department, it’s weak, whether as regarding infrastructure, progress reports of children or any other thing.
“If we see the progress of students in government schools, you will find it is the same since many years. The main problem in the education sector is that when governments change, the new authority changes its attitude towards education. They don’t want to see what the previous government did. We complete the pending work but they just start giving their new opinion regarding how to improve the education sector. I believe that since 1974, there has been no (education) commission. They must constitute a commission in the education sector, so they can give recommendations on what steps has been taken to improve education in Jammu and Kashmir.”
Despite many attempts, the Education secretary, Farooq Ahmad Shah, did not respond our phone calls.

 

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